An Arab Winter, Not An Israeli Spring

Avi Shlaim

Most people look at the Arab Spring as an expression of Arab yearning for freedom and democracy – the sort that has been modeled so vibrantly for years by Israel.

But some of Israel’s long-running critics like Oxford Academic Avi Shlaim are so effusive in their glee at the prospects of a democratic Arab world that they are simply refusing to look at what’s taking place on the ground and what it means for Israel:

The revolutions sweeping through the Arab lands present Israel with a historic opportunity: to become part of the region in which it is located and to join with pro-democracy forces in forging a new Middle East. So far, however, the Arab Spring has not resonated well at any level of Israeli society.

Shlaim’s views, however, appear to be led by naivety and an unrealistic romanticism of the Arab uprisings.

According to Shlaim: “The truth of the matter is that most Israelis look on their Arab neighbours with disdain and distrust and have no wish to become part of the region.”

Surely, Israel would be overjoyed to join a Middle East that embraced the democratic values it has maintained since its founding. But that’s not the Middle East that exists today. Why would Shlaim want Israel to become part of a region stunted by authoritarian rule, religious extremism, economic mismanagement and a lack of individual rights and freedoms?

Surely, logic dictates that the rest of the Middle East should aspire to achieve some of Israel’s success as a thriving, economically developed and democratic country, not the other way around.

Giving citizens the vote does not a democracy make. Particularly when the voters choose to elect the Muslim Brotherhood whose entire raison d’etre is hostile towards Israel and in no way conforms to the type of liberal democracy that Israelis would dearly love to see as their neighbors.

The bottom line however, is that Shlaim sits in his ivory tower in Oxford while Israelis on the ground have every right to feel nervous at the way that the so-called Arab Spring is progressing. Israelis are desperate for peace but is there really anything wrong in exercising caution amidst all the upheaval?

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